Workers Vanguard No. 983
8 July 2011
WWP Hustles for Capitalist Politician Charles Barron
Debate at SYC Class
(Young Spartacus pages)
On March 30 the Spartacus Youth Club held a class at the City College of New York, titled “The Class Nature of the State.” Among the attendees was Caleb Maupin, a writer for Workers World newspaper, the party organ of the reformist, pro-Democratic Party outfit of the same name. He attempted to defend his party’s fawning over Obama and support to Democratic city councilman Charles Barron by distorting the positions of Lenin and Trotsky.
We welcomed this opportunity to clarify for those present the differences between us and the Workers World Party (WWP), using the lessons laid out in Lenin’s The State and Revolution, written on the eve of the October Revolution of 1917. The capitalist state—with the cops, courts, prisons and military at its core—exists to defend the bourgeoisie’s “right” to exploit the working class. It cannot be reformed with the help of “progressive” bourgeois politicians but must be smashed and replaced with a workers state. As Lenin wrote in this seminal work, “Those who recognise only the class struggle are not yet Marxists
. A Marxist is solely someone who extends the recognition of the class struggle to the recognition of the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
During the discussion round, Maupin argued that the main difference between WWP and the Spartacist League/SYC was the question of “unity.” He accused us of being ultraleft sectarians, claiming our “goal is to be an isolated sect.” He claimed that WWP follows the teachings of Lenin and Trotsky to build a mass movement “united against a common enemy,” while the Spartacists simply “go into that movement and say ‘you suck, you suck, you suck, let’s tear it apart’.”
Our answers were given in the spirit of Lenin, who said: “Unity is a great thing and a great slogan. But what the workers’ cause needs is the unity of Marxists, not unity between Marxists, and opponents and distorters of Marxism” (“Unity,” 12 April 1914). An SYC member exposed what WWP means when it calls for unity, describing rallies he had attended that were organized by WWP’s front group ANSWER before 2004: “Those rallies were for building support for the Democratic Party!” ANSWER’s line, he said, was: “Let’s get Bush out of office. Let’s get some people in there who are going to end this war and bring our boys back home.”
In contrast, our intervention into those protests aimed to break workers and youth disgusted with war from their support to the Democrats—the party that just a few years later would take the helm of the imperialist war machine with renewed ferocity. We called for military defense of Afghanistan and Iraq against the imperialist occupiers, without giving any political support to the anti-proletarian Islamic reactionaries or the anti-Communist butcher Saddam Hussein.
Another SYC comrade pointed out that WWP, in its appetite to be “united against a common enemy,” hitched its wagon to the long train of leftist groupies on the Obama campaign trail. He quoted two articles from Workers World newspaper in 2008. The first proclaimed: “The election victory of Barack Obama will go down in history as a triumphant step forward in the struggle against racism and national oppression in the U.S.” (14 November 2008). The second, by WWP leader Larry Holmes, enthused: “The feeling on the streets of cities large and small across the U.S. on election night was that now, anything is possible, and it is” (6 November 2008).
Maupin defended WWP’s post-election euphoria for America’s next top war criminal, saying, “That was the feeling on the streets.” So of course WWP had to join in the celebration. Our comrades emphasized that WWP baits us as sectarian for refusing to adapt our program to the prevailing “feeling on the streets” but instead struggling to raise the consciousness of the working class.
Now that Obama’s hands are thoroughly drenched in blood, from the “surge” in Afghanistan to the brand-new murderous imperialist adventure in Libya, now that working people are increasingly bitter over the capitalist economic crisis and anti-union attacks, WWP tries in vain to pressure Obama to act in the interests of the workers and oppressed who voted for him. On March 28, WWP’s International Action Center issued a call for an emergency demo the next day to protest Obama in Harlem, asking, “How do we hold him accountable? Mass protest is our most viable option.” But Obama is very accountable...to the Wall Street bankers and other capitalists whose interests he swore to protect. Promise made, promise kept.
The WWP has a history of supporting Democrats, especially black ones, that spans nearly half a century. Back in 1965, a leaflet by the Spartacist League exposed WWP’s support to black Democrat Jesse Gray in his campaign for New York City mayor and pointed out that “The Democratic Party and its murderous, lying leaders are the most dangerous enemies of the working and colonial people today—in Vietnam, in the Congo, in Santo Domingo, in Bogalusa [Louisiana], and in Harlem.” From Jesse Gray to “Jessie Jackson for president” in 1984, to Al Sharpton for NYC mayor again in 1997, nothing has changed for the WWP.
Their hero of today is Charles Barron. In articles like “Charles Barron Is a Fighter” (14 August 2006), Workers World breathlessly gushes that this capitalist politician is a “Black revolutionary.” In response to our comrades’ exposure of Barron as a left-talking Democrat, Maupin rushed to his defense:
“Charles Barron is a Marxist. His politics are not perfect, but I, for one, see a former Black Panther leaving the Democratic Party, calling for socialist revolution and having meetings with various Marxist parties around the world as a positive force.”
If this WWP activist saw Charles Barron leaving the Democratic Party, it must have been in a dream because Barron is still a registered Democrat! When he was called out on this point, Maupin admitted it was true. Apparently WWP’s definition of a Marxist includes card-carrying capitalist politicians.
Charles Barron serves a useful role for his capitalist masters in the Democratic Party as the in-house oppositionist. He presents himself as a fighter for the oppressed who calls for “revolutionary change.” But Barron’s real role is to bring all those who might be disaffected with the racist capitalist system back into the fold of the Democratic Party.
In the early morning of 25 November 2006, NYPD cops gunned down 23-year-old Sean Bell in a storm of 50 bullets just hours before his wedding. In the wake of this atrocity, Barron was right out in front at protests. His demands were for cleaning up the image of the capitalist state, calling for indictments against the cops and the resignation of Police Commissioner Kelly. As the ghettos continued to seethe, Barron stood shoulder to shoulder with billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg when he appealed for “dialogue” in response to Bell’s killing. Barron said, “If we don’t get an indictment, there is going to be an explosion” (WNYC News, 22 December 2006). Indeed, his job is to get ahead of any explosion in order to contain it.
Less than two years later, crediting the NYPD for an “excellent job,” Barron emphasized, “I am not anti-police. I’m anti-police brutality” (New York Times, 22 July 2008). Throughout his career as a city council member, he has supported Bloomberg’s efforts to pass stricter gun control laws, which seek to ensure that the “gang in blue” hold a monopoly on the use of organized force. Wielding his occasionally radical rhetoric and his claimed prior membership in the Black Panther Party, Charles Barron offers the same capitalist program as the rest of his colleagues.
In line with this strategy, Barron formed the bourgeois Freedom Party (FP) last summer. The stated reason for the FP’s formation was that the 2010 New York State Democratic slate did not include any black candidates. At a 17 June 2010 news conference, Barron declared that the party’s aim was “to get some parity and inclusion for Black people in the Democratic Party.” WWP seems to have found true love in this lash-up. They write swooning articles with headlines like “Support the Freedom Party!” (16 July 2010) and “Freedom Party Challenges Racist Status Quo” (22 October 2010).
The Freedom Party takes its name from the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), which grew out of the voter registration campaigns during the civil rights movement. The MFDP was a militant civil rights organization that lacked a revolutionary programmatic alternative to capitalism and instead shared Martin Luther King’s illusions in the party of John F. Kennedy. At the 1964 National Democratic Party convention, the Johnson/Humphrey machine crushed its attempt to unseat the all-white, Jim Crow Mississippi delegation.
Learning from the bitter experience of that convention, Stokely Carmichael and other militants of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) advocated a break with the Democratic Party. Unlike Barron’s attempt to get “parity and inclusion” within that racist capitalist party, Carmichael said it was “as ludicrous for Negroes to join [the Democratic Party] as it would have been for Jews to join the Nazi party in the 1930s.”
They joined with others to form the Lowndes County (Alabama) Freedom Organization, which took a black panther as its symbol. It was important because it was organized in opposition to the Democrats and because it openly advocated the right of armed self-defense. Shortly after, in Oakland, California, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was formed, inspired by Lowndes County, and soon spread to other cities nationwide. The FBI unleashed a campaign of terror, resulting in 38 Panthers murdered and hundreds more imprisoned, some of whom continue to rot in prison to this day. But many Panther spokesmen and other would-be black radicals were co-opted into the Democratic Party.
At the time, the Spartacist League raised the slogan for a Freedom-Labor Party, warning that “the slogan ‘black power’ must be clearly defined in class, not racial terms, for otherwise the ‘black power’ movement may become the black wing of the Democratic Party” (“Black and Red—Class Struggle Road to Negro Freedom,” Spartacist supplement, May-June 1967). As the trajectory of Barron and many others vividly demonstrates, this is exactly what happened. By supporting this wing of the Democratic Party, WWP joins those who perpetuate the lie that black equality can be achieved within the confines of the capitalist system. In contrast, we raise the banner of revolutionary integrationism: as we fight against every manifestation of racist discrimination, we make clear to the working class that genuine freedom for black people in America is impossible short of socialist revolution, the historical task of the multiracial working class.
If the MFDP’s futile attempt in 1964 to reform the Democratic Party was tragic, Barron’s attempted reincarnation of the MFDP is simply a farce. The MFDP braved racist Klan terror and police repression in their courageous effort to beat back the brutal Jim Crow system, while Barron was simply disappointed by union-busting governor Cuomo’s failure to put more black faces on his slate. He is cynically maneuvering to expand his influence in the Democratic Party.
At the SYC class, in order to justify WWP’s reformist, class-collaborationist politics, Maupin made a clumsy attempt to falsify the history of the Russian Revolution, slandering Lenin: “If your goal is to lead the workers to overthrow the system you need slogans like ‘peace, land and bread,’ not slogans like ‘Kerensky sucks, for a true ideologically pure party,’ you know what I mean?” Kerensky was the leader of the capitalist provisional government in Russia in the wake of the February 1917 Revolution that ousted the tsar. Maupin sought to disappear the fact that it was only because Lenin fought for an ideologically steeled party in opposition to Kerensky’s government and against all the reformists who supported it that the October Revolution took place at all.
Now, Lenin never raised the slogan “Kerensky sucks,” but as a student at our class pointed out: “My understanding of Lenin’s April Theses was that he said, ‘No support to the provisional government’.” He added that Lenin “denounced almost every single party that was there at the time. You can call that sectarianism, but I think it’s revolutionary. That’s really taking leadership into your own hands, and I think that is really what a revolutionary party has to do.”
So we do know what Workers World “means”: If they had been around at the time of the Russian Revolution, they would have been on the opposite side of the barricades, “uniting” with Kerensky and so-called progressives against Lenin and the Bolsheviks who were fighting to smash capitalism and bring the workers to power. They probably would have sent representatives into Bolshevik meetings to say “Kerensky is a fighter,” and while Kerensky was doing his duty to his capitalist masters, they would have held rallies to “hold Kerensky accountable.”
In contrast, the SYC stands for the program of Lenin and Trotsky against all types of reformists, fake Marxists and apologists for capitalist politicians. Only a Bolshevik leadership can truly unite the working class and all the oppressed in a fight against capitalism. It is the reformists who divide the working class, following the lines of division fostered by the capitalists, in competition for a bigger “share” of the crumbs from the capitalists’ table.